Joe Root has begun his tenure as captain of England’s Test cricket side in earnest fashion, not dissimilar from his batting style. England lead South Africa 2-1 going into the fourth and final Test at Old Trafford, a match which looks set to be rain-affected. From the high of making 190 in his first innings as skipper, to the low of the crushing 340 run defeat at Trent Bridge, Root’s early days of captaining his country have quite the broad spectrum of emotions.
The 26-year-old Yorkshireman has already faced criticism from some quarters for his stoic refusal to budge from his position at number four in the batting order. Undisputed England’s most talented batsman, he’s certainly skilled enough to handle the inherent the dangers of the newer ball. In fact Joe Root still averages over 50 when batting at number three. When Tom Westley was drafted in to make his England debut at The Oval, he was not afforded the luxury of batting down at number six, such was Root when he debuted in 2012.
But Westley displayed a calm assurance during England’s 239 run win which saw them regain the lead in the series. His well-crafted second innings’ knock of 59 came in particularly testing conditions, and reinforced his chances of retaining his place in the side beyond the series. Not since Jonathan Trott, who averaged 44.08 in his 52 Tests, have England had a reliable batsman at first drop. Since the start of 2014, many have been tried: Nick Compton, Gary Ballance, Ian Bell and Moeen Ali but none has made that position his own.
Head coach Trevor Bayliss has made no secret of his desire to see Joe Root return to No.3, the position where he had played for the previous 12 Tests before being appointed skipper. Root believes batting at four will ease his transition into captaincy. It begs the question of why is he being granted such special treatment? His predecessor Alastair Cook was captain in the even more exposed role of opener for all his 59 matches in charge. Michael Atherton had 54 as skipper going in first, while Andrew Strauss had 50.
But Cook, now back in the ranks, has vocally supported the “low-key” approach adopted by Root. We should not forget that Root had only captained in four previous first-class matches before taking on the England job. He does not have great experience in the role, a facet that was somewhat exposed by England’s poor use of DRS reviews in the second Test at Trent Bridge. They need to have a structured process in place, for reviews, and soon.
“You often see a captain who comes in and thinks he’s got to do the speech at the start of his reign, saying that this is what he wants,” said Cook of his new captain. “Then you’ve forgotten everything he’s said after two minutes. But actually because he didn’t do that, everyone was still waiting for it and when he did speak, he spoke very clearly and very concisely on what he wanted to do.”
On the domestic scene, Birmingham Bears lead the way in Division One of the Natwest T20 Blast after a thrilling two-run win against Northants at the County Ground. Birmingham looked to be heading for defeat when Alex Wakely hit a six in the final over to bring up his half-century, but he was run out by Aaron Thomason off the final ball as the visitors sealed victory. But with Yorkshire Vikings and Derbyshire Falcons just a point behind, it’s all to play for as the pressure mounts.
Despite the scorching early summer weather, Division Two has been decimated by no less than nine ‘no results’ due to inclement conditions. Somehow Glamorgan lead the way, and had they not been hampered by four matches which couldn’t produce a match they would surely be further ahead than their two point lead at the time of writing. Surrey are sitting nicely in third place, but Middlesex in sixth will need to get some form together if they harbour real hopes of progressing.
New leaders in this year’s Walter Lawrence Trophy
Elsewhere, Alex Hales of Nottinghamshire and Joe Clarke of Worcestershire are the new joint-leaders in the battle for this year’s Walter Lawrence Trophy, with 45-ball hundreds. Opening the batting, Hales smashed his century for Notts Outlaws against Yorkshire Vikings in a thrilling T20 Blast match at Trent Bridge on July 30. The 28-year-old hit 4 sixes and 14 fours in his first T20 ton for the county as his side chased down a total of 224 to win by 5 wickets with 5 balls to spare. The swashbuckling Hales is an established England opener in limited-over matches and has played in 50 One-Day Internationals and 47 T20 Internationals, as well as 11 Test matches.
Meanwhile, on the same day, Joe Clarke, opening for Worcestershire Rapids, also posted a 45-ball century against Durham Jets in the T20 Blast match at New Road, Worcester. Responding to Durham’s innings of 201 for 2, which included a maiden T20 hundred from former England veteran Paul Collingwood, Clarke saw his side home by 8 wickets, spanking 6 sixes and 10 fours in his hundred before finishing unbeaten on 124, scored off 53 balls.
Clarke has been a revelation in the opening role after last year’s Walter Lawrence Trophy winner Tom Kohler-Cadmore’s departure to Yorkshire left a vacancy at the top of the Rapids order. The 21-year-old, who was born in Shrewsbury, has represented England Lions and England Under-19s, and is rated as one of the most exciting young batting talents in the game.
Now in its 83rd year, the Walter Lawrence Trophy, awarded for the fastest hundred of the season, is open to all domestic county competitions as well as One-Day Internationals, T20 Internationals and Test Matches in England.